Because of Thanksgiving, this is our last issue until Monday, December 1. Enjoy the holiday and may all booksellers have an excellent Black Friday!
Because of Thanksgiving, this is our last issue until Monday, December 1. Enjoy the holiday and may all booksellers have an excellent Black Friday!
As at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, which reported dismal third-quarter results last week, Borders did not have cheery news yesterday about sales.
Sales at Borders Group in the third quarter ended November 1 dropped 9.4% to $693.4 million, and the net loss was $175.4 million compared to a net loss last year of $161.1 million.
Sales at Borders superstores open at least a year fell 12.8%. Excluding music, comp-store sales dropped 10.6%. The company noted "a steep decline in customer traffic that was most pronounced in the months of September and October." Comp-store sales at Waldenbooks fell 7.7%. International sales, which now consists primarily of Paperchase, dropped 6.2% to $30.3 million. Sales at Borders.com were $11.9 million.
The operating loss of 64 cents a share was higher than expected by Wall Street analysts, who had predicted a loss of 50 cents a share. As a result, Borders stock fell 50% in after-hours trading, according to the AP.
But the company trumpeted some numbers. During the quarter, debt fell 34.2% to $525.4 million. Operating cash flow from continuing operations rose $110 million. The company reduced inventory by $304.2 million, about 19.5%. Borders also predicted that it will lower next fiscal year's operating expenses by $140 million compared to its previous target of $120 million.
In a statement, Borders CEO George Jones said, "Borders has successfully reduced debt, improved operating cash flow, lowered expenses, improved gross margin--excluding occupancy--and improved inventory productivity during a time of extreme economic challenge. We stated at the beginning of this year that strengthening our balance sheet is our top priority, and we are delivering results. We'll remain keenly focused on these critical initiatives, and in addition, will increase our efforts to drive further gross margin improvement. All of the changes we are making will position Borders Group to compete more effectively."
After having sold most of its international bookselling operations during the past year and putting itself up for sale, Borders has decided to take itself off the market, although it may yet sell its Paperchase stationery subsidiary to Pershing Square Capital Management, the hedge fund that is its single-largest shareholder, for $65 million. Borders also is in discussions with Pershing Square about "an alternative financing transaction."
Borders suffered a bit of a prestige blow yesterday: the stock is being dropped from Standard & Poor's MidCap 400 index because its market capitalization of a little over $100 million is nowhere near the admission requirement of $1 billion.
In a story with the headline "Publishing Displays Its Split Personality"--which uses as its starting point Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's decision to freeze acquisitions and Hachette's bonus of an extra week pay for all employees--the New York Times spends many long column inches to come to an enlightening comment in the penultimate paragraph: "Some industry observers pointed out that it was difficult to draw grand conclusions from the recent news at Houghton or Hachette, other than to point out that extremes are a norm in the business, even at times of global financial stress."
In between there is some news: Jeremy Dickens, president of Education Media, owner of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said that the company has not put the trade division, representing about 5.5% of total revenues, up for sale, but that "if there's a transaction that makes sense for all our stakeholders, we'll consider it."
The story also looks at the usual issues: difficult sales for newer authors, some sales trouble for established authors, the continued efficacy of the traditional publishing model of nurturing new authors and building up backlist, the blockbuster mentality, how much Harcourt's decision to forgo new manuscripts for a time relates to its indebted private equity ownership and more.
Robert Sindelar, managing partner of Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, Wash., discussed "The Economy and the Holidays: Stories From the Storefront" on public radio station KUOW's Weekday program.
The Book Basket, Gardendale, Ala., will close December 20 after 24 years in business, according to the North Jefferson News. "It was really a public service," said owner Billy Ray Fortner, who cited health reasons for his decision.
Several sharp-eyed readers made us glad that we had qualified our picture yesterday of President-elect Barack Obama holding a copy of Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan. In fact, it was not the first time after the election that he was pictured clutching a book: on November 7, Obama was depicted holding a copy of Derek Walcott's Collected Poems 1948-1984 (FSG).
Poet and bookseller Marie Gauthier happily wrote: "While I'm pleased that our new President-elect is a book-lover, I can't help but be thrilled to point out the very first book he's spotted toting around is a poetry book!" The London Telegraph has a story and picture.
As part of publicizing the concept of buying local, Susan L. Weis, owner of breathe books, Baltimore, Md., has encouraged customers who plan to buy any books online to do so through her New Age store--even if the titles aren't New Age. As she wrote customers recently in her weekly newsletter, "We can get you most books (not just New Age--but ALL books) in a day or two."
The enthusiastic response led her to write in her next newsletter: "As soon as I hit 'send' [on the previous week's newsletter], the phone began ringing and e-mails began coming in with book orders. You helped make this an extraordinary week at breathe books. Please keep the orders coming! We are here for you, and if you are there for us, we will continue to be here for you!
She also offered "to send books directly (and quickly) from our distributor's warehouse to your house (or anywhere at all) for just a few dollars. We can even gift wrap your purchases and insert a personal note."
The message continues to resonate. Last Sunday night while shopping at Whole Foods (but of course!), Weis was, she wrote, "literally stopped in my tracks by two customers who said they were taking their Amazon wish lists and e-mailing them to me. They said they had no idea I could get them any kind of books and they were so happy to throw the business my way."
Weis called this "such a huge lesson for me. I thought people understood that a bookstore is a bookstore is a bookstore. But breathe books is so entrenched in customers' minds as a New Age bookstore that they didn't realize I could order anything for them. Sometimes what's so obvious to us is not so clear to the customer. People need to be reminded and then they will be there for you! It's been an incredible few weeks and I look forward to a super holiday season."
Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco's book buyer, has picked The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb (Harper, $29.95, 9780060393496/0060393491) as her pick of the month for December. In Costco Connection, which goes to many of the warehouse club's members, she wrote:
"Fans of Wally Lamb know from his first two novels [She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True] that he tends to write about flawed and, often, alienated people. His latest novel, The Hour I First Believed, is no exception. The beauty of Lamb's novels is that his characters feel like real people--people you want to succeed.
"This novel isn't an easy read, especially the chapters about Columbine. But it is a good reminder of what the U.S. has been through in the last decade. Because the characters Caelum and Maureen Quirk, among others, manage to face tragedy and still make their way in the world, one word describes what I felt after turning the last page: hope."
On the events menu a week ago last Sunday at the Book Works, Del Mar, Calif.: David Tanis (c.), head chef of Chez Panisse, Berkeley, who promoted his cookbook, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes (Artisan), and brought a variety of fresh vegetables from Chino's Organic Farm. The food made the Book Works staff smile--except for Anthony Albright, the owner's son (lower r.), who may have anticipated having too much healthy food at home.
Tomorrow on All Things Considered: Bailey White, author of Nothing with Strings: NPR's Beloved Holiday Stories (Scribner, $24, 9781439102268/1439102260).
Tomorrow on NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams: Curtis Roosevelt, author of Too Close to the Sun: Growing Up in the Shadow of my Grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor (PublicAffairs, $29.95, 9781586485542/1586485547).
Tomorrow night on Larry King Live: Michael Bernard, author of Spiritual Liberation: Fulfilling Your Soul's Potential (Atria, $26, 9781582701998/1582701997).
Tomorrow night on the Late Show with David Letterman: Denis Leary, author of Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid (Viking, $26.95, 9780670031603/0670031607).
Sunday on Face the Nation: Bob Woodward, author of The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008 (Simon & Schuster, $32, 9781416558972/1416558977).
Sunday on PBS' Great Performances: David Foster, author of Hitman: Forty Years Making Music, Topping the Charts, and Winning Grammys (Pocket, $26, 9781439103067/1439103062).
Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this week from 8 a.m. Thursday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.
Thursday, November 27
8 a.m. For an event hosted by the Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, Colo., Jake Page, author of In the Hands of the Great Spirit: The 20,000-Year History of American Indians (Free Press, $16.95, 9780684855776/0684855771), explores aspects of Native American history and addresses current issues involving Indians living in the U.S. (Re-airs Thursday at 8 p.m.)
9 a.m. William Least Heat-Moon, author of Columbus in the Americas (Wiley, $19.95, 9780471211891/0471211893), contends that Columbus's interaction with the indigenous people of the lands he explored caused them irreparable harm. (Re-airs Thursday at 9 p.m.)
Friday, November 28
5 p.m. Daniel Frick, author of Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession (University Press of Kansas, $34.95, 9780700615995/0700615997), examines the political and cultural impact of the former president. (Re-airs Saturday at 5 a.m., Saturday, December 13, at 12 p.m., and Sunday, December 14, at 1 a.m. and 8:15 p.m.)
Saturday, November 29
9 a.m. Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, editors of State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America (Ecco, $29.95, 9780061470905/0061470902), present a collection of writing pertaining to each of the 50 states. (Re-airs Saturday at 9 p.m., and Monday at 2 a.m. 7 a.m.)
6 p.m. Encore Booknotes. For a segment that first aired in 1995, Gertrude Himmelfarb, author of The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values (Vintage, $19.95, 9780679764908/0679764909), asserted that the Victorian virtues of hard work and deferred gratification are the tools to fix current social problems in America.
10 p.m. After Words. Susan Shillinglaw interviews Rick Wartzman, author of Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath (PublicAffairs, $26.95, 9781586483319/1586483315). Shillinglaw recounts the backlash to Steinbeck's novel, published in 1939. (Re-airs Sunday at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m., and Sunday, December 7, at 10:30 a.m.)
Sunday, November 30
9 a.m. Fred Pearce, author of Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff (Beacon Press, $24.95, 9780807085882/080708588X), talks about traveling to more than 20 countries to find out how the items he used in his everyday life were produced. (Re-airs Sunday at 4 p.m.)
Although John Updike was given a special lifetime achievement award for having been shortlisted four times in 16 years, the 2008 Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Prize went to Rachel Johnson for her novel Shire Hell, according to the Associated Press (via USA Today).
"All the passages this year are equally awful," said Tom Fleming, the magazine's deputy editor, "but Rachel Johnson's struck us because of the mixture of cliche and euphemism. There were a couple of really bad animal metaphors in there."
Johnson was not displeased with the dubious honor. "I always wanted to win a literary award," she said, noting that previous winners include Sebastian Faulks, Tom Wolfe and the late Norman Mailer.
From the Midwest Booksellers Association, a recent Midwest Connections pick. Under this marketing program, the association and member stores promote booksellers' handselling favorites that have a strong Midwest regional appeal:
The Plain Sense of Things by Pamela Carter Joern (Bison Books, $18.95, 9780803216198/080321619X). Tripp Ryder of Carleton College Bookstore in Northfield, Minn., said, "The clarity and honesty of Joern's prose impart a quiet intensity to this novel about three generations of a family enduring a hardscrabble existence in western Nebraska. Shaped by place and by each other, strong, flawed characters struggle through love and pain to create rich and dignified lives well worthy of our attention."
Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism by Geoff Nicholson (Riverhead Books, $24.95 Hardcover, 9781594489983, December 2008)
If British writer Geoff Nicholson's spirited exploration of the subject of walking doesn't have the able-bodied among us itching to heave ourselves out of our chairs and hit the pavement, I suspect he will feel he's failed at the task he's set for himself in this entertaining and edifying book.
If a pun can be excused in this context, Nicholson covers an impressive amount of ground in slightly more than 250 energetically written pages. Informative without being pedantic, the book is crammed with enough accounts of walking accomplishments, including Sebastian Snow's trek along the length of South American (8,700 miles) or the English "professional pedestrian" Captain Barclay's 1809 feat of walking one kilometer per hour for 1,000 hours (it's even harder than it sounds, as Nicholson explains) to fill a small Guinness Book of World Records. Nicholson devotes a chapter to the subject of classic walking songs like Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight" or Aerosmith's "Walk This Way," and the unforgettable gaits of movie characters Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy or John Travolta in the opening sequence of Saturday Night Fever. You'll even pick up entertaining factoids like the critical difference between a maze and a labyrinth.
As one might expect, Nicholson is quick to draw parallels between walking and writing. "Words inscribe a text in the same way that a walk inscribes space," he writes, pointing out what many blocked writers have discovered: a good stroll sometimes can be the trick we need to get the words flowing again.
Alongside the book's more journalistic material, Nicholson offers an engaging memoir of the role walking has played in his life. From his boyhood in hilly Sheffield, England, to adult sojourns in Los Angeles, New York and London, there's ample evidence for Nicholson's assertion that, "I walk because it keeps me sane." Despite his passion for the activity, walking hasn't been entirely kind to him. He recounts the story of the serious arm fracture he sustained while walking in Los Angeles and describes how he and his girlfriend almost became hopelessly lost on a casual hike in the desert of Western Australia.
Sometime in the 1970s, when the "jogging" craze hit America, walking began to feel like a stodgy stepsister to its more glamorous sibling. Now a generation and lots of bad hips and knees later, perhaps it's time for a revival of the simple, elegant pleasures of a good walk. If that happens, then The Lost Art of Walking may find itself the Bible of that new movement.--Harvey Freedenberg
Shelf Talker: Is there anything simpler than the act of putting one foot before the other to move along the ground? Mixing journalism and memoir, this love letter to the elemental act of walking offers rich insight into a universal human activity.
A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books by Alex Beam (PublicAffairs, $24.95 Hardcover, 9781586484873, November 2008)
There's something oddly touching and quintessentially American about our country's passion for self-improvement. Meld that with the powerful engine of modern capitalism and you have the story of the Great Books movement, entertainingly recounted by Alex Beam in what he aptly describes as a "brief, engaging and undidactic history of the Great Books."
The brainchild of Robert Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago at age 30, his friend Mortimer Adler, a dynamic but insufferable intellectual snob, and adman and politician William Benton, the 54-volume Great Books of the Western World was launched on April 15, 1952. Offering 443 works authored by 74 white males, the books contained some 32,000 pages of text set in double columns of nearly unreadable type. Adler contributed two of the volumes, the oddly-named "Syntopicon," an index of 102 "Great Ideas" (one $2-per-hour indexer was a young Saul Bellow). At first the books sold poorly, but when the marketing muscle of the Encyclopaedia Britannica door-to-door sales force was enlisted, sales soared to an eventual total of one million sets.
Beam offers lively portraits of an odd assortment of classics lovers like Thomas Hyland, the World War II pilot whose twin passions were described by his son as "reading Great Books and killing Japs." But readers like Hyland were too few in number, and instead of sparking a widespread American intellectual revival, Beam observes, many of the Great Books collections ended up serving as little more than attractive complements to the living room furniture. The rise of the civil rights movement and feminism further damaged the books' credibility, as the notion that all wisdom resided solely in the words of dead white men came under justifiable attack.
Despite that, Beam wryly concludes, "Against all odds, the Great Books movement is not dead." Great Books Groups continue to meet throughout the U.S., Columbia University offers core courses featuring the classics (David Denby's Great Books is a stimulating account of his reintroduction to that course as an adult), and St. John's College, the school founded in 1937 whose curriculum consists solely of the Western canon, still maintains two campuses.
In our time, when one of the worst charges that can be leveled against a political candidate is that he is an "elitist," the notion of average Americans stuffing their bookshelves with classic tomes seems quaint. Alex Beam's lighthearted, winning account is a reminder of a not so distant era when even people who weren't necessarily willing to devote the effort to be smart were prepared to invest the money to appear so.--Harvey Freedenberg
Shelf Talker: In this entertaining work of social and cultural history, journalist Alex Beam offers a lively account of the Great Books movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
The holiday season kicked off at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor, Mich., last Wednesday with an annual five-day sale that has been a pre-Thanksgiving tradition at Nicola's Books for more than a decade. "The logic is that you're not competing with all the big Thanksgiving sales at the malls and to try and get people to commit their holiday spending dollars to you before they go anywhere else," said owner Nicola Rooney.
Everything in the store was 10% off, excluding periodicals and items benefiting nonprofits. Titles featured in the Great Lakes Booksellers Association (GLBA) holiday catalogue were 20% off. The GLBA titles, including staff favorites like Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, are heavily promoted in the store: Rooney had each page in the catalogue blown up to poster size and hung throughout the store above a display of the books it pictures.
In addition to announcing the sale in an e-mail newsletter, Rooney sent the GLBA holiday catalogue to 10,000 people on the store's mailing list. Overall, sales for the five-day period were down from last year, "but not brutally so," noted Rooney. There was a slight increase in sales of cards, chocolate and calendars.
Because of the economy and credit crunch, this season's theme at Nicola's Books is gift-giving with "spinoff benefits." Said Rooney, "With all the different ways we have for purchases to go towards worthy causes, we're definitely promoting the 'buy gifts that give to others' approach."
This includes sidelines, an area in which the store typically does a brisk business but has lately seen a decline. "Books are bearing up quite well, but sidelines have been hard hit," Rooney said. Popular items include World of Good's fair trade merchandise, particularly scarves and other textiles, and brightly-colored mittens made from recycled silk by a women's co-op in Nepal.
In the store's December newsletter, Rooney presents "Seven Habits of Highly Compassionate People." Among her suggestions are purchasing a locally-crafted Mott Children's Hospital teddy bear, with all proceeds going to the hospital, or buying a book for an underprivileged child as part of the store's Angel Tree program. Shoppers who donate a book receive a 20% discount on that title, along with 10% off their total book purchase. Rooney hopes to match or even exceed the 200 books collected last year.
Another suggestion on Rooney's list is stopping by the store on Thursday, December 18, to meet Allan E. Ansorge, whose story "The Alternate Plan" is included in Dying in a Winter Wonderland, an anthology of holiday-themed crime fiction. All publisher profits from the book are being donated to the Toys for Tots Foundation.
The Nicola's Books rewards program allows customers to aid the community without dipping into their wallets. For every $150 spent on books, they receive a $6 coupon that can be cashed out on the spot, saved for a future purchase or all or part of it can be donated to one of three local non-profits--Washtenaw Literacy, the Salvation Army or the University of Michigan's Exhibit Museum of Natural History. Every donation is matched by the store.
Nicola's Books is giving back to customers with two in-store holiday promotions. For every $100 spent at the store in December, shoppers receive a free "surprise" book, already wrapped. They can also fill out an entry form to be eligible to win three gifts: a large, plush Corduroy bear or Peter Rabbit or a signed and numbered pen-and-ink illustration from Matt Faulkner's The Night Henry Ford Met Santa.
Rooney expects this to be "a tough season" made more difficult because this year there are fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than usual. "Every year people leave it later and later to buy gifts," she said. "What's going to be the cliffhanger this year is whether they are going to come out in force."--Shannon McKenna Schmidt